From Our 2010 Archives

1 in 5 Teens Has Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels

Unhealthy Cholesterol Levels Among Teens Raises Heart Risks

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

Jan. 21, 2010 -- One in five American teens has unhealthy cholesterol levels, putting them on the fast track for heart disease, according to a new CDC report.

Researchers found that 20% of young people aged 12-19 in the U.S. have at least one abnormal cholesterol or lipid level, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Unhealthy lipid levels are a leading risk factor for heart disease and death among adults in the U.S.

"Overweight and obese young people are at far greater risk of having abnormal lipid levels than are youths with normal weights," researcher Ashleigh May, PhD, an epidemic intelligence service officer in CDC's Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention, says in a news release. "The current epidemic of childhood obesity makes this a matter of significant and urgent concern."

The study showed 43% of obese teens had unhealthy cholesterol levels compared with only 14% of normal-weight teens and 22% of overweight teens.

Child Cholesterol Check

In the study, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers reviewed health indicators for 3,125 young people between the ages of 12 and 19 from 1999 to 2006 gathered during an ongoing national survey.

The results showed 20% of teens had at least one abnormal lipid level based on cutoff points for high LDL cholesterol (greater than or equal to 130 mg/dL), low HDL cholesterol (less than or equal to 35 mg/dL), and high triglyceride levels (greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL).

Differences were strongly associated with weight as well as sex, age, and race or ethnicity. For example:

  • More boys than girls had at least one unhealthy lipid level (24% vs. 16%).
  • Older teens were more likely to have lower "good" HDL cholesterol levels than 12- and 13-year-olds.
  • White teens were more likely to have low "good" cholesterol levels (8%) and high triglycerides (12%) than black teens (5% and 4%, respectively.)

Thirty-two percent of all youths met screening guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) based solely on their weight. The AAP recommends cholesterol screening for young people with a family history of high cholesterol, early heart disease, or at least one major risk factor for heart disease, such as smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, or overweight/obesity. Fifteen percent of the youths were overweight and 17% were obese based on BMI.

Researchers say screening teens for unhealthy cholesterol and lipid levels would help identify those at greatest risk for heart disease that would benefit from measures to reduce that risk, such as eating a healthier diet, losing weight, or increasing physical activity.

SOURCES: May, A. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 22, 2010; vol 59: pp 29-33.

News release, CDC.

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